Orbit Virtual Instrument for Kontakt
By Anderton |
Orbit Virtual Instrument for Kontakt
Designed by sound designers for sound design...but it can do quite a bit more
by Craig Anderton
Wide Blue Sound's Orbit, from film composers Jeff Rona and Nathan Rightnour, is an instrument for Kontakt 5.5 or higher (it also works with the free Kontakt Player). Orbit is different from the norm in several ways:
- Its synthesis engine is dedicated to creating textural atmospheres, which can range from soothing pads to rhythmic, pulsed phrases. Think of it as a one-trick pony—with an infinite number of ponies.
- College courses on interface design should study the user interface as an example of how to combine simplicity, depth, and an invitation to experiment.
- For certain types of music—chill, soundtracks, dance, “new age” (which I guess is “old age” by now), musical environments, installations, and the like, you should probably stop reading and just buy it. If you do rock and pop, it may be a stretch to fit it into your music, although the pulsing rhythms can adapt well to modern rock genres.
Fortunately there are tons of audio examples on the Wide Blue Sound web site, which are highly representative of what Orbit can do. They can’t convey the process of how you get there, which is quite cool and therefore the focus of this review, but you’ll hear the end results.
SO WHAT IS IT?
Anyone who’s used Cakewalk Rapture (or Rapture Pro) will recognize the basic toolset: extensive use of step generators and modulation, augmented with wave-sequencing/cross-fading capabilities and effects. However unlike Rapture, Orbit does not try to be a general-purpose instrument, but optimizes everything—the sounds, interface, and capabilities—toward creating luscious, atmospheric, and sometimes eerie/scary textures in a very accessible fashion.
Four tempo-synched synthesis engines, called “Orbits,” draw from 101 looped phrases. Individual processing for each channel affects gain, pan, and tuning; there are also four filter modes (highpass, lowpass, bandpass, notch) with variable resonance. What makes for the infinite variety is how you can impart rhythmic characteristics to each engine for rhythmic effects, and/or cross-fade among the channels in a manner similar to wave sequencing, where sounds morph from one into another.
Despite the conceptual simplicity, the permutations and combinations made possible by the non-intimidating set of controls is what makes Orbit endearing. (Wide Blue Sound claims that even without altering the controls, there are 293,970,600 sound permutations. Although as a reviewer I do like to verify manufacturers’ claims, I think you’ll give me a pass on not counting them to find out.)
Four additional step sequencers (up to 64 steps) are assignable to 23 specific destinations and off, but the big deal here is the mind-boggling number of ways to process the sequences including randomize, shift steps right or left, play steps from left to right/right to left/cycle/random, etc.
And to dress up your sounds further, a complement of effects includes (in this order) two serial distortions, modulation (chorus, phaser, flanger), delay, reverb, and global lowpass output filter. Even better, their parameters are controllable by the step sequencers. Although you can’t change the order of effects, you can always put effects before or after Kontakt for additional processing.
Regarding automation, Orbit works with MIDI automation, and as expected with Kontakt, a single MIDI controller can affect multiple parameters. However like most instruments, you can’t manipulate more than one control at a time with a touch screen, although it always impresses clients when you run your finger along one of the step sequencers and create a new step sequence.
Some “convenience controls” add to Orbit’s talents—for example, the option to assign random sounds to the four Orbits or individual ones, solo and mute (which are automatable and can become part of a performance), input quantizing so you can hear the results of rhythms without having to quantize in your DAW, keyswitching to change articulations on the fly, and the like.
Although no trial version is available, the sound examples tell you what you need to know about the sound. Concerning ease of use, although Orbit is enigmatic at first due to its non-standard approachy, I’d be shocked if you weren’t making cool sounds within minutes of opening the UI. Figuring out how to exploit all its options takes longer, but the learning curve is more like coasting than climbing. $199 puts Orbit at the higher end of the virtual instrument cost range, but check the web site for occasional specials.
There’s no question Orbit is innovative, designed by intelligent lifeforms, and easy to use but nonetheless rewarding. The only real question is whether it fits into the type of music you do, but you can figure that out by listening to the audio examples. In any event, don’t be fooled by Orbit’s apparent simplicity—every control matters, and provides a useful function that can have profound effects on the sound.
I predict that over the next few years, a fun game for movie-going Orbit owners will be “Spot the Preset.” In any event, Orbit is a program that indeed attains escape velocity.
Website: Wide Blue Sound
Read the Expert Review on the companion Eclipse
Buy Orbit direct from Wide Blue Sound
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.